Gilbertson v. Williams Dingmann, LLC

Gilbertson v. Williams Dingmann, LLC, WCCA No. WC15-5878 (May 2, 2016)

The employee worked as a funeral director and, due to conflicts with her personal life, decided to resign her position effective December 31, 2011. She wrote a letter of resignation to her employer on September 26, 2011 indicating the resignation date of December 31, 2011. 3 weeks later, on October 13, 2011, the employee suffered a large herniated disc with nerve encroachment at L5-S1. She was taken off of work for several months and received temporary total disability benefits, was recommended for surgery, and was assigned a QRC. She was released to return to work on April 11, 2012 and a rehabilitation plan was completed by the QRC with a vocational goal of “RTW different employer.”

The date of injury employer wrote the employee a letter on June 18, 2012 offering her a job as funeral director at the same compensation and work schedule she had prior to her resignation with accommodations for her work restrictions from the back injury. The employee declined the job offer with no explanation.

In July of 2012, the employee filed a Rehabilitation Request seeking to change her QRC to PARS rehabilitation but a Decision and Order instead granted termination of rehab services and the original QRC filed an R-8 closure form. The employee is appealing the termination of rehab services as part of this claim as well.

After her release to return to work on April 11, 2012, the employee worked for 31 Gifts for 9 months, Kelco Supply Co. for 1 year and Neptune Society starting in July of 2014. She only earned $3,000 while working for 31 Gifts. The employee claimed TPD benefits for her wage loss after April 11, 2012, temporary total disability benefits, and vocational rehabilitation benefits. The employer and insurer argued that, had she accepted the job offer from the date of injury employer, there would be no wage loss and that her employment with 31 Gifts was only sporadic and not close to her earning capacity. The compensation judge awarded temporary partial disability benefits while the employee was working and rehabilitation benefits but denied temporary total disability benefits. The employee appealed the temporary total decision and the employer and insurer cross appealed the award of temporary partial and rehabilitation benefits.

On appeal, the WCCA reversed the denial of temporary total disability benefits on the basis that there was no reason to deny TTD because the job offer from the date of injury employer did not comply with the rehabilitation plan of return to work with a different employer.

Regarding temporary partial disability benefits, the WCCA found that refusal of a job offer does not lead to discontinuance of TPD and that the employer and insurer failed to present evidence affirmatively establishing that the employee’s reduction in earnings was unrelated to her disability or that she had a higher earning capacity post-injury than the wages she actually earned. So, TPD was affirmed.

Finally, rehabilitation benefits were also affirmed as the WCCA noted that no prior approval was required for the re-opening of services and a job offer refusal is not a bar to rehabilitation benefits.